4 Easy Steps Towards Being a Great Parent

Parenting is hard. I have two wonderful adult children, but I’m still wondering why God blessed us with such grace. Looking back, I’ve learned there are a few principles, which actually work.

The title says these are “easy” and they are in some ways. None of these are hard to remember. None of these are hard to implement with personal discipline. But, living them daily, in addition to the normal stresses of life, can seem very difficult at times.

But, in my opinion, great parents are continually working at them.

Here are 4 principles to be a great parent:

(Or the best parent you can be.)

Be present.

Be there for your kids. Stay committed to them throughout their life. Be willing, especially in the formative years, to sacrifice your time for them. They’ll know whether or not you really want to be with them. And, something positive happens when they have your full attention. They model you. So it is also important you live a life worth modeling.

Be intentional.

Make a plan for each individual child based on their needs and work the plan. Of course I would encourage you to introduce them to Christ and involve them in church regularly. But, also help them with their school work. Teach them Biblical and life principles. Do what’s best for them even when it isn’t popular with them. Always remember you are the parent. They will someday be glad you remembered.

Be relational.

Let love reign. Keep grace flowing. Provide healthy discipline, because you love them and they need it at times. But, be patient, recognizing they are learning even when it seems some days they are not.

Don’t ever let them think they have to earn your love. You may not always approve of their actions, but be sure they have no doubts you approve of them. Spend time with them doing what they enjoy doing. Sacrifice your time to play with them, even at the end of a long, hard day. It will be worth it. They will never forget the sacrifice you made.

Be consistent.

Keep doing the right thing – always and continually. Over and over again. That’s what the great parents do. And, it may be the thing people forget to do the most. It’s easy to give up, but the win is in the continuance.

Even if you do everything you know to do, children are unique individuals with wills of their own. They will make choices in life, and mistakes, just as you did and do.

Parenting IS hard, but you’ve got this. And, the reward of seeing adult children thrive is worth every sacrifice.

12 Challenges for the New Year To Make Your Life Better

The verdict appears mixed among the people I know of whether of not they make resolutions for a new year. And, I understand, many have tried before – it didn’t work – and so now they are like “why bother?”.

I believe there are probably some principles in place as to whether or not a resolution succeeds. For example, is it reasonable? Is it measurable? Is it sustainable? Do you have accountability in place? But, I wonder if the term itself is a problem for some people. RESOLUTION. I hereby resolve! Sounds kind of formal, almost intimidating, doesn’t it? I hate to say I’m resolving to do something where chances are good I won’t.

I do believe strongly, however, we should work towards continual improvement in our life, whether this begins at the first of the year or in the middle doesn’t matter as much. But, the new year does provide a nice, clear place to start.

So, I want to offer a spin on the old resolution tradition and offer a new word.

Challenge.

How does that word resonate? Do you ever challenge yourself to do better? It’s easier than saying I resolve to do this. You’re not saying you will – you may not even be able to – it will be a challenge, but you’re willing to give it a try.

Let me give you some examples, some which may be challenges for you want to consider. I can almost guarantee if you meet just a few of these challenges your world will be better. You won’t need to meet all of them, just the ones most “challenging” to you. But, you’ll have to trust me in this – meeting them or even improving upon them – will brighten your life.

Here are 12 challenges for the new year:

Quit trying to be someone else

God made you to be you and He didn’t make a mistake. The more you live the you He intended the more you’ll enjoy the benefits and blessing. There’s something you can offer this world no one else can. Comparison only leads to disappointment.

Quit trying to carry all your burdens

And, the challenge here for you may be to quit trying to carry everyone else’s burden. God designed you (and me) to be insufficient without Him and to have a relational need for others. Sometimes the best thing you can do is admit you can do it anymore – and ask for help. In your weakness He is strong, but you’ll have to admit your weakness before He usually allows His strength to kick into full gear.

Start embracing today

You can keep hoping your life improves – that this would happen or that would happen. The Apostle Paul said he had learned “the secret of being content”. I’ve personally defined contentment in my life as “being satisfied with where God has allowed me to be in life – right now.” When you begin to find contentment TODAY becomes a great day – in spite of the challenges it holds. Perhaps your greatest challenge in the new year will be embracing where God has you now and waiting more patiently for what He will bring in the fullness of time.

Let the past go

As much as we can learn from history, we shouldn’t be bound by it. One of my favorite verses is Ecclesiastes 11:3, “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies.”. So simple, yet so profound! It speaks volumes to me. If the tree fell there it lays. You can’t do anything about it now. It’s done. Finished. On the ground. All you can control now is your response to the tree which fell. If grief is holding you back by all means grieve. It’s healthy to mourn a loss. (Get help if needed.) But, at some point you will need to move forward. If it’s regret then reconcile the loss. If it’s guilt, or disappointment, or anger – whatever “it” is from your past deal with it now. Admit the tree fell. It hurt. It stinks. You probably wish it hadn’t happened, but, I challenge you to move forward in the new year.

Accept God’s grace

It’s always more than we deserve. You can’t earn it. It’s amazing grace. But, denying or refusing it ignores the beauty of it. Is the guilt of your past keeping you from enjoying all the blessings of being a child of God? Has there never been a time you received the gift of salvation? Have you been living more like a prodigal in exile than a child of the King? If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. If the Son has set you free you are free indeed! I challenge you to embrace grace in the new year.

Live free of grudges and bitterness

The lack of forgiveness is a hidden destroyer of joy, peace and happiness. Someone reading this is holding on to a grudge, some bitterness, maybe anger – and it’s keeping you from fully enjoying life. Every time you hear a person’s name or see them you are reminded of the injury they caused. And, it’s hurting you more than it is them. Chances are they’ve moved on and you’re still struggling. Isn’t it time to let it go? (Let it go could be a “Frozen” song you need to sing to yourself.)

Remember other people exist

Don’t be selfish or always command your way. People, even the best people, will never perform to all of your standards. Honestly, is it even fair to expect it of them? They may not even agree with you as to what is important. You cannot hold people to unrealistic expectations and not be disappointed often.

And, here’s a note to those of us disappointed with the things of this world. As followers of Christ, we can’t expect that everyone sees the world as we do. Of course, there are biblical principles through which we view the world and live, but can we really expect people who aren’t believers to embrace them?

Admit mistakes readily

Sincere humility is an attractive quality and it helps to free you from future regrets or guilt. We all can have “perfectionist” tendencies, yet none of us is perfect. If you want to live with less self-induced stress this year, admit you don’t have all the answers and sometimes you have none.

Give generously

Giving opens the heart to joy and contentment. Something happens when we give to others which causes us, though we have less, to feel like we have more. And, there are many needs around us. I challenge you to give more in the new year and see how it makes your life better!

Protect your heart

“Above all else” the Bible says. Where your heart is there your treasure will be also. Most likely there are activities, or people, or places where your heart is most easily injured. You may not be able to avoid them, but you can be aware so you can “guard your heart”. And, when you are aware you may be injured you will build guardrails to lessen the damage.

Take a new risk

The adrenaline of attempting something you’ve never done before fuels you for future success. It could be something you’ve always wanted to try or something you know God wants you to do, but, for whatever reason, you’ve resisted. Especially if it’s God-honoring, not sinful, will make your life or other’s life better, then what are you waiting for? Don’t let fear or thoughts of your inadequacies be your chief motivators in the new year. I challenge you – GO FOR IT!

Think and act eternally

There is more to this life than the world we know today. Thankfully, I might add. Jesus said to “store up treasures in heaven”. Whenever possible, I challenge you to consider the eternal consequences of the decisions, investments, and actions of your life. Jesus said to live in this world, but not be of this world. How are you making a difference in the world to come by your world today? The more intentional you are the more treasures you build for a future reward.

Which of these challenges are you willing to accept?

(I posted this in a similar form a few years ago.)

7 New Year Resolutions Which Could Change Our World

Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.

In fact, with a whole lot of improving – it might become contagious – and we might just change the world.

Here are 7 new year resolutions which could change the world:

Let’s resolve to begin everyday with a prayer, a smile, and a humility check.

A 3 part checklist. What if we woke up every morning and began by talking to God – recognizing His power and asking Him to direct our steps, make sure our smile is our attitude, and humbly enter the world not expecting anything other than to be a blessing? It will require discipline – but how we begin a day almost always determines how we end one.

Let’s resolve to return evil with good.

It won’t be easy. In fact, it will be hard. A grudge or sarcastic remark seems so much more fulfilling – in the moment. But, over time, it causes more harm than good – mostly to us – often even more than “them”. Imagine your world when you influence others by how you don’t respond when they “push your buttons” the wrong way.

Let’s resolve to never let the sun go down on anger.

Anger emotions grow overnight. They blossom into more intense anger emotions. We may not be able to resolve all disagreements, but we can drop the right to get even and resolve to be at peace as much as it depends on us. We will awake with level ground to build better, healthier relationships with others. Oh, what a world it would be if we had less anger.

Let’s resolve not use social media as a forum to bash others.

Or even as a forum period. It divides people rather than bringing them together. Let’s resolve for a kinder, gentler Facebook – rant-free even – where we simply stalk – I mean check in on old friends. Let’s act like people – real people -may actually see what we write. And care. And, let’s post in a way which encourages and builds each other up – almost like that’s in the Bible somewhere. (It might even be somewhere around 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – check me on this one.)

Let’s resolve to develop our patience muscle.

Wow! I put this one in the middle so maybe you (or my wife) would skip over it quickly. Just kidding. This is one I need – we all need. I’m not sure we can completely master it this year, but, with intentionality – and Christ’s strength – we can keep getting better. What if we thought about the most common things which test our patience – such as the traffic on the drive home at night – and we asked God to help us deal with it before we experience it – each time? Just a thought.

Let’s resolve to remember it’s not about us.

This one alone would surely change the world. What if we placed into our schema – into our immediate thought process – a simple understanding – OTHER PEOPLE MATTER – just as much as we do? Does it make a difference when you think someone values you? Of course it does. What if we valued others and demonstrated to them by how we treat them, what we say to them, our facial expressions, or even our thoughts toward them? Think it might change a few of our relational encounters this year? I think it might. Certainly seems worth trying.

Let’s resolve to listen more than we speak.

Ouch – if needed! It’s hard to value others when we are doing all the talking. (It’s also hard to hear from God.) It requires an act of humility when we remain silent at times we want to speak. Many times disagreements, arguments, even serious issues like prejudism or racism, have more to do with misunderstanding or miscommunication than anything. When we listen we demonstrate value – but, it also guards the tongue, protects relationships, and we might actually learn something.

Of course, ultimately the change the world needs is the Gospel, but who knows? Maybe if we change the way we treat others – including other believers – others might actually want to hear our Gospel.

I realize I’m simple-mindet, but I do, henceforth, resolve.

Who’s with me?

10 Life Lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. I have probably seen it thirty times or more.

I read recently, the movie was not a success the first few years after it’s release. No one could sit through the hard part to get to the happy ending. Aren’t we like this with life sometimes?

One of our local, historic theaters has shared the film for Christmas on the big screen. There is something even more wonderful about “It’s a Wonderful Life” in this setting.

Having watched the movie so many times, I once took time to reflect on how many life lessons this movie provides.

Here are 10 life lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

It’s not just about us. Other lives matter. We are better, richer, because of other people.

When we hurt, we hurt others. When we are in pain, we tend to feel we are suffering alone, but this is never the case. When someone we love hurts – we hurt.

We can’t hide our pain from people we love. They know. They may not know how to help or even how to express their concern – at least not in a way we will receive it – but they know – and care.

We need community. We really do need people in our life. We never realize this more than when we are in need. (I can’t imagine my life personally without the church.)

There is power in cooperation. We can do great things when we work together. I love this quote by Aimee Semple McPherson, “With God, I can do great things! But with God and you, and the people who you can interest, by the grace of God, we’re gonna change the world!” So true.

We seldom know the impact we have on others. Or, the good we are doing. I think God may protect us from foolish pride this way – thinking it is all about us. But, when we care – when we love others – when we strive to make a difference – we make a bigger splash on humanity than we could ever measure.

Character speaks louder than cash. Every. Single. Time. I’d rather have my integrity than a stuffed wallet any day. And, I’d rather have friends I can trust – and strive to be like – than friends who can buy my lunch.

“All you can take with you is that which you have given away”. (Peter Bailey) There are so many Biblical principles in this movie – this is one of them. Storing up treasures where moth and rust cannot destroy – it really does make for a wonderful life.

No man is a failure who has friends.” (Clarence) You can’t watch the movie and not wonder if you’d have friends come through for you as George Bailey did. I’m reminded the best way to have a friend is to be one. It worked for George – and it still works today.

Our life matters. Your life matters. (“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence.) God makes no mistake with His creation. He has a purpose for every soul, in which He breathes life.

What did I miss?

4 Do’s and Don’ts to Help Ministers at Christmas

I have posted some of these thoughts several years ago, but decided the subject needed mentioning again. One of my goals in ministry is to help protect the ministers and their family. Through this blog I reach thousands of men and women who serve God in a vocational role. My heart is heavy when I hear from those who are drowning with burnout and whose family is suffering.

Having been on both sides of the pulpit – as a pastor and a layperson – I have a unique view of the pastorate. I am very thankful to be serving in a healthy church, which encourages my family time, but I hope to encourage those who struggle to balance family and ministry.

I also realize the size of my church helps. We have a great staff and dedicated, trained volunteers. We even have several retired ministers in our church who can help fill in when needed.

With the Christmas season here – and really thinking into the new year – I thought I would share a few things you can do and a few things not to do to support the ministers you probably love. The reality is the December calendar is packed with activities – as they are for everyone. The difference is many times a pastor doesn’t feel the freedom to control their schedule. People in ministry have accepted a call of God to care for people. Most ministers have a hard time saying no to people and can easily become overwhelmed with the never-ending demands of their time. That’s especially true during certain times of the year.

If a minister is not careful, they will spend so much time with others their own family will feel neglected.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to support your pastor or minister:

DO:

  • Pray for them during the holidays (and always). Encourage them. People in ministry usually have tons of critics. Find some time to encourage them. It may be their greatest gift. This is an especially stressful time for everyone, but in some professions, such as ministry, it’s not a slower time. It’s a busier one.
  • Let them off the hook from attending every social event. They simply can’t do everything and still be ready for Sunday, care for the rest of the church and their family.
  • Invite them to your social – without an expectation they will come. They will love knowing you thought of them and wanted to include them. And, if they do come, try to you see them as regular people who like to have fun. Don’t make them talk “Church” unless they want to and they don’t always have to be the ones to pray.
  • See if they have specific needs at the holidays. Many ministers, especially in smaller churches, have a hard time financially at Christmas.

DON’T:

  • Expect them to be everywhere. It’s simply impossible – and unreasonable.
  • Make them feel guilty when they can’t make your event. They will likely take it personal and it will weigh heavy on their heart. They wouldn’t be in ministry if they didn’t love people. And, some of them even struggle with being people-pleasers. Don’t take it personal. It probably isn’t. It may simply be practical. They simply can’t be everywhere and do everything – just as you probably can’t – or shouldn’t try.
  • Hold them to a higher standard than is realistic. Remember, they are simply human.
  • Place unrealistic expectations on the minister’s family. They probably enjoy just being a family – as your family does.

Find ways to support those who have accepted God’s call to ministry. You would be amazed how a small gesture can make a difference in their life and the life of their family. Plus, you’ll be playing a part in Kingdom-building – strengthening one of God’s servants.

Pastors/Ministers, what else would you add to my list? Do you feel especially stretched this time of year?

7 Christmas Gift Suggestions for Your Wife

I’m going on a wild hunch there are some men who haven’t even thought about what they’ll get their wife for Christmas yet. I understand. It probably still seems early to Christmas Eve shoppers. (I used to be one of those who loved to shop Christmas Eve – now it’s one of my busiest work days.)

Maybe you’ve thought about what you’d get your wife, but the problem is you still have no clue what to get her. It’s the same problem every year. Gift card may be what you’re thinking. Cash perhaps. Let your daughter pick something up if she’s old enough.

No sweat. I understand. I’m here to help this year.

Here are 7 suggestions to get your wife for Christmas:

Make a coupon book

A date night a week – or a month – or make up 12 random dates. A movie. (One she picks.) A walk in the park on a sunny, Spring day. Dance lessons. A cooking class. Print a coupon for each. Then give her access to your calendar and let her claim them as needed.

Break a bad habit

She cares about you and who you are and what you do impact her. Perhaps you need to lose weight, so she worries about you. You need to quit smoking. Or, maybe it is the way you talk to her. Perhaps you are super critical of her or you talk down to her sometimes. You know its a bad habit, but you’ve just never improved. It may be as simple as never picking up your clothes from the bathroom floor. Whatever it is she may have subtly – or not so subtly – tried to suggest a change in you. You agree with the change, but haven’t made it. Just make it. Merry Christmas to you and her. (Habits stick when repeated 4-6 weeks I’m told.)

Give her the gift of you

To make any relationship strong takes time and commitment, but we all get distracted by life. Make a commitment to speak less and listen more in the new year. Perhaps you symbolize this with a token of some sorts. Wrap up the remote and give it to her. Would that do the trick? Maybe it’s a golf club – one of yours – symbolizing you’ll give her more of your free time. Maybe it’s access to the calendar on your phone. You know the distractions in your marriage. Give her the gift of time with you in the new year.

Open a savings account

Put $100 or $50 – whatever you can afford, into a savings account. Label it “future investment in us!” Is there a family trip she’s dreamed about? Perhaps there is somewhere you always promised to take her. Take the first step this Christmas to make it happen someday. A great way to build relationships is to have something to dream about together.

One night in a nice Bed and Breakfast

Many men shy away from these, and many women do also, but for Cheryl and me, some of our most romantic moments were one night trips to a bed and breakfast. Make sure you get a private bath. A comfortable bed and a room with a view is great. If you plan ahead you will spend less than a really great hotel and the experience of reconnecting can be amazing for both of you.

Plan a gift together.

This isn’t for everyone. You know your wife. Some women have to have something to unwrap on Christmas. For Cheryl, she’s just as satisfied if we are planning our Christmas giving together. We jointly agree to take a trip together as our Christmas gift to each other. We agree on something we want to buy for the house. This works for us. It might for you.

A trip away – in May

This is one of my best gift ideas. And, it doesn’t have to be May – just sometime later in the year. This isn’t as needed for us now, because we are empty-nesters and can travel when we want, but this was the rockstar gift when our boys were home. This is brilliant on several points. It builds positive emotions leading up to the trip. When she was having an exceptionally stressful day she could remember – at least we were getting away tougher soon. In addition, we could plan the trip at Christmas, but pay for most or all of it later – which helped stretch our Christmas budget. (To do this I would often ordered brochures from a place I know we have thought about going and wrapped them in a pretty package. Sometimes I made reservations, sometimes I just picked the place. Either way, it is your responsibility to handle the necessary arrangements to make it happen.)

Do you get the idea that these are more about time than even money? I’m convinced it’s what most women want from their husbands. I realize some will say their wife once did, but doesn’t now. If that’s true, it’s probably an indication of a bigger problem. It may even be because she wanted you then and you weren’t there. Maybe the answer is to give her more time now.

Now I should also encourage you to be responsible. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Many of these are very low cost ideas. Some you can budget for and pay later. Chances are good you are going to get her something and I’m guessing some of these might be better than a dress shop gift certificate or another pair of those ugly pajama bottoms.

Your marriage and your wife is worth the extra effort. This year, think through your gift. Be purposeful. The woman you love is worth the effort.

What gift ideas can you add to the list?

7 Suggestions to Have the Best Christmas Ever

It’s Christmas time again. Seems to come every year about this time. The most wonderful time of the year.

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

(That could almost be a song. Wait a minute – I think it is.)

But, if you’re like many of us, Christmas will be over before you took time to enjoy it. You might even get past Christmas, realize how fast it passed, and so you set some new year’s resolutions to slow down and – maybe – enjoy Christmas more next year.

What if you could do that this year? Why not? Sounds like a good goal to me. Enjoy the celebration of Christmas. The birth of our Savior. Relish the time with family. Savor every moment.

Here are 7 suggestions to make this the best Christmas ever:

Set a limit on expenditures.

Something happens when Christmas becomes more about the value of the gifts than the value of the season. More, more, more only produces energy in a direction that can never really be sustained. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10) Start with a budget. Be realistic. Stop comparing. One problem for many of us is that we are trying to compete with everyone else. Obviously, if you have more money you can spend more money (and less — less). But, make it your goal to invest more in people this year than in things you can buy. And, don’t feel obligated or pressured to buy gifts you can’t afford for people. It will only be a temporary satisfaction and produce a lot of guilt in the new year when you see those credit card bills start arriving in the mail. (And, usually the guilt starts as soon as the cashier hands you the receipt or you push the purchase button online.)

Set boundaries in relationships.

This is especially true for younger couples and families, but really for most of us. You can feel pressured by extended family and friends to be a dozen different places. Remember, you aren’t responsible for pleasing everyone — in fact — you can’t. It’s impossible. (Some have a harder time with that than others.) Don’t let everyone else determine your Christmas schedule. You may have to have some difficult, but direct conversations with relatives or friends. Again, be realistic. You can’t be everywhere. There are some places you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid, but, as much as possible, control your schedule rather than having it controlled by others.

Plan and prioritize your time.

This is similar, but also includes how we spend our own time at Christmas. There are usually more demands for our time than time for our demands. Just as you did in creating a money budget, create a time budget. Set aside some time for you to celebrate Christmas as an immediate family — or in a way where you best celebrate. Then build around that time. It’s okay to say no. (Do you need to read that sentence again?) If you don’t, you’ll run out of time before you feel you ever really celebrated. It’s hard, but again, you’re trying to actually celebrate Christmas — the birth of baby Jesus. That’s hard to do when you have lost all control of your time.

Lower your expectations.

That you have on others and on yourself. Sometimes we set very unrealistic expectations on what others will buy or how they will respond to what we buy. We look for the “perfect” gift — to give or receive — and our enjoyment of Christmas is based on that search — rather than the real joy of the season. We also set unrealistic expectations on relationships. We watch too many Hallmark Christmas movies where everything works out in the end to the perfect holiday celebration and when it doesn’t happen at our house quite like that we get disappointed. Remember, we aren’t characters in a movie. We are characters in real life. Real life is almost never perfect. Learn to enjoy your celebration with all the quirkiness that makes your family unique from every other family. (Because every family is quirky in some way — in real life.)

Practice healthy disciplines.

Sometimes in the name of “celebrating” we over do it only to have guilt about it later. Don’t overeat or over-indulge. You will occasionally – it’s part of the season — but, be reasonable. Keep exercising. Sample rather than eat full portions. You’ll feel better and have less regrets after the holidays have ended.

Serve others.

Find and establish a Christmas tradition of service. Whether it’s serving at a food kitchen, ringing the bell for the Salvation Army, or just picking up trash along the side of the road, you’ll better appreciate Christmas when you serve. The real meaning of Christmas is based around serving others. The baby born at Christmas came to be a servant. The best way to celebrate His birth is to give back expecting nothing in return. You’ll be the bigger recipient when you do.

Remember the reason for the season.

Yea, I saved the best and most important for last. On purpose. It’s also the one we push to last if we aren’t careful and the ultimate purpose of this post, so I wanted it to be the last impression on your mind. Jesus — the reason for the season. It’s simple — even cliche, but, it’s true and it’s powerful — if you do it genuinely. In the midst of the madness, rediscover the miracle of Christmas. A Savior — who is Christ the Lord — has been born to you. Establish a tradition that helps you best identify with the true meaning of Christmas. You could take time to explore a character of the Christmas story you’ve not considered previously. Research elements of the setting and culture. Read the major passages in Matthew and Luke repeatedly through the season. Listen to only Christmas music. Attend special Christmas services. Whatever works for you. Be intentional to practice celebrating the real joy of Christmas.

Not all of these will apply to everyone, but my guess is if there are a couple here you need to work on – to better celebrate Christmas – you already knew it. As we begin the rush of the Christmas season, pause right now, take a few deep breaths, and let’s make this the best Christmas ever.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

4 Thoughts On Finding a Mentor

I have had many mentors who have invested deeply in my life. I am who I am partly because of the intentionality of others pouring into my life. They have made me a better leader, better husband, father, friend, and person.

One of my more recent mentors was a godly businessman who agreed to meet with me periodically. He didn’t even think he had anything to offer me, but as I observed his life and ways I knew he did. He was twenty plus years older than me, had been extremely successful, and his leadership skills were off the charts. So, of course, I could learn from him. And, I did.

One of the more frequent questions I receive is how do I find this kind of mentor?

Well, I think they are all around, but if you want to find a mentor, you’ll have to be intentional.

Here are a few things to consider:

Observe people – Who are people already in your life? You go to church with them? You see them in business or social circles? They are in a civic club you attend? They work out at your gym? Most likely you have potential mentors around you if you are consciously looking for them.

A word to my pastor friends. I do not believe every mentor in your life has to be another pastor. We may be thinking too highly of our profession if we can’t learn leadership (or life) principles from those in secular positions. Obviously, we should choose mentors who have high character and integrity, but we can learn from those who are not in ministry. Some of the godliest people I know are in the business world – and I’m glad they are – and I can learn from them.

Find someone with qualities you aspire to have. Think of an area where you feel you need to grow and look for people who seem to have excelled in those areas. In my experience, they will often share with you times of difficulty in getting to where they are today. You’ll learn from their challenges.

I once recruited a mentor simply because he was one of the most humble people I had ever met. It was a quality I admired and wanted to emulate in my life. I knew I could become proud if I’m not careful and I had observed him to be both successful and humble. And, that’s what I told him in our initial lunch meeting together. I wanted to hang out with him because I had observed him to be both. Simple. Honest. And, it proved to be effective. This man and I no longer live in the same city and yet he continues to check on me periodically and every time he encourages me.

Ask them to meet with you. I usually find a hesitation in people in making the first ask, but equally true has been how receptive people seem to be willing to meet with me when I do. This obviously needs to be reasonable. I probably shouldn’t expect Bill Hybels to mentor me, but there are plenty of pastors (and those who are not pastors) who have much for me to learn if I will make the ask.

If it seems to go well on the “first date”, ask them to meet with you periodically. It doesn’t have to be often. It could be every quarter or every six months. You’ll learn valuable life lessons from them each time you meet.

Know – in a general sense – what you want to learn from this person, but then each time you get together come with questions for the person. You do the work to prepare for meetings unless the person takes this initiative. Most mentors will not feel they know how to mentor you. And, that’s okay, you can take the pressure off of them simply by having good questions, which glean from their experience in whatever area you are trying to grow.

It’s okay to move on when it’s time. This doesn’t have to be a lifetime arrangement. It could be. I have a few mentors who have been in my life for 25 years or more. I don’t speak to them often, but they remain available to me and still periodically invest in my life. I also have had some mentors who were there for a season of my life. When I began to enter the world of adult parenting I had a mentor who walked through how things would be different for Cheryl and me and how I would relate to our sons. I have even been mentored through a change I was leading and my mentor and I only met one time.

I think we over-complicate the subject when we put too many parameters around what a mentoring relationship looks like. It can be a fairly simple process. There’s something you want to learn, find people who seem to have already learned it, meet with them and soak in their experiences, and then repeat often.

If you are serious about being mentored you’ll look for opportunities to allow people to speak into your life. You’ll have many mentors. And, your life will be richer.

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

12 Ways to Make Marriage Fun (Again)

Sadly, as someone who works with a lot of marriages, I see more and more of them going through the routines of marriage without really enjoying the journey. At the same time, I do know couples who have learned how to make their marriage work for the good of both spouses and are truly enjoying life together.

Cheryl and I want to be included in the latter group.

What does it take to put or keep fun in a marriage? How does a couple keep the spark alive. I’m not pretending every day will be a romantic sitcom, but I do believe we can keep enjoying life together – through the good and more difficult seasons of life.

Let me explain this is not intended to be a theological discussion of the purpose of marriage. I could – and have – talk more about the way a marriage is to glorify God and how two imperfect people become one (Ephesians 5). The point of this is more on the practical side. I have in mind as I write this marriages which have grown stale. They aren’t necessarily in trouble, but one or both spouses just isn’t experiencing the joy in marriage they once had.

The original audience for these suggestions were when I shared them at a pastor’s retreat years ago, but I believe they work for all of us.

Here are a 12 ways to make marriage fun (again):

Prioritize your marriage

If you want to have fun in your marriage, you have to make your marriage a priority in your life – above your hobbies, work and even your children. All of us would say our marriage is a priority, but do we practice what we say we believe? Our marriage should take precedence over every other human relationship and every other activity. My wife knows when I am putting her first and when something else has my greatest attention. (And, as the pastor of a large, growing church there are plenty of other things to grab my attention. I have to discipline myself.)

Schedule time for fun

Couples need to schedule time to simply enjoy life with our spouse. Everyone I know is busy, but we should make sure our schedule never gets so crowded we cannot enjoy time with the love of our life. As a pastor, I am never really off from work, but I try to be home when I am home. Candidly, I have heard my wife (and my boys when they were home) ask me something like, “Are you really listening to me” They knew my mind was wandering to my next appointment. We must set boundaries between our home and our work or other activities. I try to add to your calendar opportunities to have fun together. (When our boys were home and we were pulled in so many directions – this went on the calendar first.) When is the last time you and your spouse went on a date? (By the way – You can be wise with your expenses and still plan for date nights. Read HERE about some ways to intentionally date.)

As much as possible – Let worry go

Worry is like a cancer to ourselves and our relationships. When worry abounds we begin to see everything around us in a more negative light – including our marriage. We often hurt most those we love most. The reality is struggles will never completely disappear, so we should learn how to balance the need for control in our lives and the desire to live at peace and trust God through the hard times of life. It is important we not allow struggles which come into the marriage to tear the marriage apart. Instead we should let our trials draw us closer to each other.

Expect surprises

Stuff happens! We know it – we see bad things happen everyday, but for some reason we are often caught off guard when they happen to us. We should not be surprised when our marriage needs a little extra help because of the struggles of life. Cheryl and I have discovered the tough times bring us closer together if we don’t act as surprised when they come and, from the beginning, commit to working through them together and not allowing them to distract us from us.

Celebrate along the way

I have been told it takes three or four positive life occurrences to offset every negative. If this is true then we need to look for opportunities to celebrate the good things of life – as much as possible. When times are especially stressful, Cheryl and I try to make sure we are remembering the positives in life. We count our blessings – even name them one by one. The blessings are always there, but sometimes we have to look harder for them than other times. Have you ever just taken time to reflect together how many things you have for which you are thankful? At times we have a better life than we think we do – once we take time to celebrate.

Enjoy each other’s interests

It’s okay to have outside interests, but one of the goals of marriage is to enjoy life together. This usually involves enjoying each others activities together. I don’t like to shop necessarily, and there are certain stores where I sit on a bench as Cheryl shops, but I go shopping regularly with Cheryl. I go, because I love her, want to spend time with her – and she loves shopping. It has always amazed me when I invest the time to shop with Cheryl she always tries to give back to me by allowing me to enjoy one of my interests – with no guilt.

Get away together (alone)

We all need time away from the demands of life. On a pastor’s income, I can’t always take fancy vacations, but I am not afraid to invest in my marriage. My wife and I love to travel. One of our more fun things to do together is to plan inexpensive day trips. There is something about physically leaving the environment, in which we are comfortable, that pushes us closer to the ones we love. For years, while my boys were younger, I gave Cheryl a trip for Christmas to be used sometime during the year. She looked forward to the gift and the trip every year. On bad days during the year, the thoughts of the gift or trip to come fueled her positive emotions.

Serve together

We have discovered the more we serve other people together the more fun we have in our marriage. It gives us more common ground with each other. Taking mission trips have become a fun way to spend time together. Serving our church together brings us closer to each other. Sharing ministry stories and experiences helps us draw from each others strength.

Realize little things matter

Moments in a marriage, which may seem to be minor details, have the potential for major impact on the marriage relationship. It is important to handle little issues or conflict before they become big things. If a husband and wife have a minor disagreement it can easily escalate into a major division in the relationship if left unattended. Keep the relationship fresh and free from minor drama.

We should also allow little pleasures to bring happiness to the marriage. One of my favorite times of day is the walk Cheryl and I take at night. These few minutes each day keep us close relationally, allow us to catch up on our individual days, and help me enjoy Cheryl in a fun setting.

Laugh at life

I read a statistic once that preschoolers laugh an average of 300 times a laugh an average of 17 times a day. I don’t know if that’s statistically accurate, but it sounds about right. I can certainly view life and see the older we get the less we tend laugh. (We have lots of senior citizens and preschoolers in our church. There is a difference.) Laughter is good for our health and laughing together builds stronger relationships. Couples need to learn to laugh through life together. Cheryl and I laugh much – and often!

Keep dreaming together

When couples are dating they seem to have fun discussing their future plans. Once we get married we tend to lose the art of dreaming. Dreaming inspires and encourages the heart. Dreaming together as a couple keeps the relationship fueled with new passions and desires.

Spread the pain

I try to model my pastoral responsibilities like the Acts 6 model in the Bible. I have learned I cannot do everything. I must be a good at delegation. Don’t be afraid to say “no” in order to protect your marriage. (I wrote about the tension of being accessible and available HERE recently.) Many couples I know are so busy they never have time just for the two of them.

It is also important, however, to have some close friends with whom we can share life’s burdens. None of us were meant to live on an island to ourselves and the same is true for married couples. Cheryl and I intentionally build relationships with other couples we can trust. (Yes, pastors, you can do this too – and should.)

Try these suggestions, practice them for a while, and see if more fun comes back into your marriage. Marriage can continue to be fun!

What tips do you have for making marriage fun again?

5 Things I Learned In Sending A Son Away To College

We are well into our years as empty-nesters. Both of our boys have finished college, one is in grad school, but both are supporting themselves and on their own.

I loved the time with our boys at home. We had great relationships. They were (and are) two of my best friends.

The first son attended a local college and lived at home most of the time. It was a different season, but we still got to spend a lot of time together. The youngest went to school 8 hours from home.

I’ll never forget the feelings of driving away from him freshmen year. Wow! It was painful. I mourned. I cried. It was a deeply sad occasion. If you’re going through that now — I’m praying for you as I type this post.

In the process of him leaving I learned a few things:

It was much harder than I thought letting go. My counseling background tells me I began a mini-depression about a month before he left and it was a few months afterwards, probably shortly after the first semester ended and the Christmas break ended, before I felt “normal” again.

I prepared my boy, but not my emotions. I am not an extremely emotional person. This changed the day I said “goodbye”, got in the car and drove back home. I was an emotional wreck.

It is never the same, but it can be better — at least in some ways. I missed seeing Nate terribly, but our talks became even more open and honest than when he was at home. As he grew to be a man, our relationship became deeper, more personal.

I couldn’t wait for his calls/texts/emails. There was a charge in my spirit when I looked down at my phone and saw it was Nate. I longed for communication. When our boys were at home we had disciplines — such as a nightly meal — where we could discuss the events of the day. We couldn’t expect those every day from college. And, most days they didn’t happen — but when they did it was golden.

It began a new phase of life for Cheryl and me. Our parenting is not over, but our role has changed. We began to make new dreams — just for the two of us. We enjoy our time with our boys when we are with them, but we love our life together. It’s a good season.

Shortly after Nate went to college I wrote him an email and posted it here. You can read the post HERE.

For some things I have learned in parenting, see this CATEGORY.